“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15
“Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Luke 24:45-48
“Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8
The five recorded declarations of the Great Commission that are found in the Gospels and the book of Acts provide us with a wealth of information to help us grow in our definition and understanding of a missionary and his primary duties. To facilitate our understanding of this information, we will consider five specific areas that are drawn from the texts—Authorization, Sphere of Ministry, Message, Purpose, Range of Activities. In this article we will address Authorization and Sphere of Ministry.
The Great Commission is Christ’s Commission whereby He authorizes His church to go forth and make disciples of all nations. This truth is evident in all five commissions in that it is Christ Himself who is commanding and sending. However, in the commissions recorded in Matthew and John, the fact that Christ is the authority behind the Great Commission is most clearly revealed. Immediately preceding the commission in Matthew 28:19-20, Christ declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth,”1 and it is by this authority that He sends forth His church to the nations. In the commission recorded in John 20:21, Jesus declared, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Christ was God’s chosen, anointed, and authorized Servant, sent to preach the gospel2 and to give His life as a ransom for many.3 In a strikingly similar fashion, Christ now authorizes and sends forth His church to preach the gospel and proclaim His ransom.
The Great Commission is given to the entire church. There are those who are called to proclaim the gospel and minister to their own people, and there are others who are called to go out and proclaim the gospel to the nations where it is yet unknown. Nevertheless, whether at home or abroad, those who are biblically and faithfully laboring to advance the kingdom are doing so in the authority of the One who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.
Sphere of Ministry
Four of the five Great Commission passages make reference to the church and missionary’s sphere of ministry. In Matthew and Luke, we learn that we are to go to “all nations.” Mark sees the Great Commission as encompassing “all the world” and “all creation.” Finally, the book of Acts sends us even to “the remotest part of the earth.”
From these texts, it is clear that the gospel and the Great Commission is a global endeavor in which neither a single individual nor people group is to be excluded. This is verified in the book of Revelation, where the Apostle John is given a glimpse of the future and is privileged to see:
“A great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”4
If this heavenly vision is to be fulfilled—and it will—, then the church cannot stay in one place, but must go into every corner of the earth and labor diligently until all have heard and those who do repent and believe have become mature disciples. This is the task of the entire church and each individual Christian according to his or her gifting and calling. Some are called to labor at home and to send off and support those who go. While others are called to go into even the most remote parts of the earth to either preach the gospel where it has never been preached or to strengthen the church where it has yet to reach maturity. Regarding the missionary’s sphere of ministry, we must take great caution and avoid making hard and fast distinctions. In Luke, the early disciples were sent to all nations, “beginning from Jerusalem.”5 And in Acts, they were sent out to be witnesses in “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”6 Those in Samaria were no less missionaries than those who were in the remotest parts of the earth. Thus, we cannot judge the degree to which one is a missionary by how far they are from their home or by how needy the people group to whom they are ministering may be. Although the church and her missionaries should be constantly seeking to reach the unreached in the remotest parts of the earth, we should be careful to also esteem the missionary who labors nearer home.
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer